BJJ: It's not about the colour of your belt! The fifth and final lie in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Over a series of 4 posts I introduced my idea of writing about the 5 lies that helped shape my view on BJJ and grappling. I talked about

the first of the 5 lies of BJJ: To avoid pain, just tap when you get caught!

and my oh my did the post receive a massive response. Within a couple of hours there were over 20 comments (now over 35! all very valid and extremely well written) on Facebook and I'm sure there are more now. I thank everyone who took the time to read the post and comment on it and Graham for taking the time to write a post inspired by mine on his excellent blog.

Later on that week I talked a little about the second lie that helped shape my view on this amazing martial art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and that lie is:

-BJJ / Grappling is for everyone!

The third lie that helped shape my view on this amazing martial art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is:

-You don't have to compete to get good at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu! The Third Lie in BJJ.

And the fourth lie is:

-Training no-gi BJJ will transfer into your gi BJJ! The fourth lie in BJJ / Grappling

To conclude this series of blog posts, I give you my opinion on the fifth lie in BJJ that, ever since understanding it, changed my outlook and enjoyment of the sport and art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:

-In BJJ, It's not about the colour of your belt!

Is the colour of your belt in BJJ important? Some instructors (and practitioners alike) will tell beginners that the belt colour isn't really important. That it isn't really a big deal. That they should just focus on training and getting better at grappling and the belts will just come with time, as if getting good at grappling and BJJ and thinking about where you are along the development curve (as symbolised by the 5 coloured belts in BJJ: white, blue, purple, brown and black) are two mutually exclusive concepts. Belt colours in BJJ are treated with the same hypocrisy as the joy of sex in most orthodox abrahamian religions: you're not supposed to want it or covet it, but if you're really really good it'll be bestowed upon you, in abundance!

The truth of the matter is, the belts in BJJ are a big deal, for many reasons, and to say otherwise and then get emotional (happy, sad, excited, jealous, scared, constipated) when you or a peer are given a new belt indicates that you aren't being completely honest with yourself. It is what it is and while I sincerely believe that belts are, more than anything, tools for the instructor to know how tailor her instruction to the learner(s) she is faced with, I still know that when someone receives a new belt there's good reason to congratulate them. It IS a fantastic achievement and a milestone. It's freaking awesome, so way give people guilt for wanting it?

So next time someone says "Nah I don't care about belts. They come when they come. I just want to get good at grappling!" tell them "Good for you! I really want to reach mine". No need to burst their bubble. No need to NOT congratulate them when they do get to the next belt (just to make a point). No need to put some nasty comment when they update their Facebook status telling the world how happy they are about their new BJJ belt. In the words of Skipper, the penguin captain from Madagascar: "Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave". The belts in BJJ are still a very important part of the art.

Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi ----Did You Like This Article?--- Click here to add The Part Time Grappler to your Favourites / Bookmarks


slideyfoot said...

Heh - I think I've found myself disagreeing with every single one of your five posts on the 'lies' so far. ;p

I have always found the "hooray I got my blue belt" threads on internet forums weird. I will continue to feel that it is detrimental to focus on belt colour or take the next belt as a good goal to aim for, as opposed to working intently on technique and treating a new belt as byproduct.

My purple belt has had one advantage so far, in that it's enabled me to teach. It hasn't made my jiu jitsu any better or me any happier. The other main use is if you're a competitor: then I can understand getting a new belt might be exciting, as it opens up a new group of people to compete against.

As I rarely miss an opportunity to link, I'll stick up the post I did a while back on belts. :)

The Part Time Grappler said...

Which is why I love it when you comment :o) (that we disagree)

Getting the belt means that you've reached a certain stage, which the instructor and the BJJ community symbolises with a belt colour.

A white belt wearer is different from a blue belt, who in turn rolls differently from a purple...etc. I was told many years ago to not judge my own level in martial arts but rather leave that to the instructor because I (say, a white belt in BJJ) judge my performance with the eyes of a white belt. If I leave it to an instructor then its judged by a higher belt and all the experience they carry with them. The instructor lends authenticity and confirms where you are on the development curve and the community welcomes you to the new development stage.

Yes we face challenges in training and we can either learn from them and show up for the next session or call it a day. I don't judge anyone who decides they've had enough of JJ and want to use their time differently, but I also understand that it takes a certain strength and determination to step on the mat again after a particularly hard session or competition. That's the growth that is symbolised by the belts and that's why the occasion and the belt carry weight in BJJ.

As for your belt not making you happier, the question is happier than what/when?

I can put my hand on my heart and say that I am a happier person now than a couple of years ago. I have a (slightly) better understanding of my life thanks to the my training in BJJ and my raised awareness of my actions (and emotions) when training and rolling (and teaching). That development is symbolised by the belts so I can say I'm happier now that I am a purple belt than when I was a blue belt because along the way from blue to purple there have been inevitable challenges thru which I have grown and become happier :)

I can't say for sure, but I imagine if I had not carried on from blue to purple I wouldn't be as happy as I am now :)

JimEJim said...

I think there are valid points on both sides of this one depending on where you are in training.

From a business standpoint, I sort of understand why people decided to add more belt levels (note how kid's classes have even more colors sometimes). It caters to a human instinct for quick progression and praise, which slideyfoot touched on his blog, and even if arbitrary, still gives some people a reason to train. Even arbitrary goals, like number of classes, sometimes helps drive people. Just imagine how many people would continue training if they were told it'd be 10 years before they saw a black belt.

On the other hand, the belt itself doesn't always tell you for certain that you're rolling with a better grappler, which is what I think many have a problem with. There's no consistent way to measure that considering just how much variety there is in the art.

So, it depends what your goal is. If you need to get students into a school to pay you, sometimes it helps to have those arbitrary rewards systems. If you're really trying to measure skills and find a good rolling partner, you have to do it by rolling with them and not worry quite as much about the belt color.

I do agree there's nothing wrong with celebrating a belt progression though even if it's only a measure of how many classes you've attended. It's still an achievement and a sign you're working at something. Just don't expect it to mean you're suddenly going to catch your opponents in triangles if you haven't been drilling that hard enough. :)

The Part Time Grappler said...

Thank you for the comments JimEJim and indeed very valid points.

I train my 16yr old brother. I teach him a 1-2hr private every Friday and have been doing for approx 40-50 fridays now. He's getting pretty good and on the odd occasions I've let him roll with complete beginners and somewhat seasoned white belts, he's caught them and caught them well. Does that mean I should put stripes on his belt or start looking into getting him graded to blue? What difference would that make?

To me the belts are a great tool for the instructor when faced with a big class to remember (at a quick scan) who's at what level, but they are also a great way for the members of the class to know how they are doing. We train with the same crowd (mostly) so when we all get better at somewhat similar rate, we think no one is getting better. When I train with my brother, I know exactly how well he's improving as he's the only student in the session and he knows it too as he measures it against only one ruler (me).

To me, moving from white to blue signifies being ready to move away from techniques to combinations. When I feel that he's ready, I will let him know and talk to David about promoting him to blue. And we will celebrate *<:o)